Volume 22, Number 32 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 18 - 24, 2009

Photo courtesy of Fehley Fine Arts, Toronto

Annie Pootoogook’s “In the Summer Camp Tent” (see National Museum of the American Indian)

Art museums offer holiday season exhibitions
Worthy works include Pakistani, Indian, Scandinavian, Neapolitan


New York’s holiday spectacle is synonymous with relentless shopping opportunities. Long before Thanksgiving or the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, department stores unleash the season with elaborate window displays, blinking strings of lights, Christmas music deep discounts.

As the last month of the year unfolds, many locals get increasingly wary of the blatant commercialization. For those who will stay put for the holidays and experience a heightened craving for culture — or for those who would like to lure visiting family and friends away from the shopping mayhem — the city’s various art museums offer a rewarding alternative.

Landmark exhibitions — such as Vasily Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, Georgia O’Keeffe at the Whitney, or “Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity” at the Museum of Modern Art — guarantee a versatile art program even during the time when most galleries are closed for the season.

Downtown, the New Museum presents the first major museum exhibition of the Swiss artist Urs Fischer. The popular art world enfant terrible became notorious in 2007 when he sledgehammered apart the floor of his New York gallery and turned it into a 38-foot-by-30-foot crater. Though this show is less radical, it certainly contains an array of stunning work. Revealing a hint of surreal pop whimsy, Fischer’s ideas are characterized by a carefully weighed combination of simplicity and wit.  A butterfly on a croissant suspended from the ceiling, a melted grand piano, or large mirror boxes with images of everyday objects are part of this particular body of work — which, overall, is as satirically charming as it is raw.

Many of the exhibitions that should not be missed happen to tell of foreign lands. The Asia Society currently hosts the first U.S. museum survey of contemporary Pakistani art. Featuring some of Pakistan’s most significant artists, it reveals a civil society whose history of dissent and activism has long informed its art movements, poetry and music. Though styles and aesthetics vary, there are some continuous themes — including Pakistan’s lively rural, urban, and regional cultures (as well as well-known issues, such as religious fundamentalism and urbanization).

In contrast, the National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center New York presents works by the Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook. For years, Pootoogook — who was born in 1969 — has chronicled the social, economic, and cultural realities of Inuit life in North Canada. While her drawings — which are dominated by stark black outlines and solid color blocks — recall traditional Inuit art, her subjects (such as modern technology) are contemporary. An interesting counterpart to Pootoogook’s world can be found in the work of So-Bin Park, whose exhibition “Toward the Creation of a New Female Myth” is on display at the Chelsea Museum.

Park, who lives and works in South Korea, juxtaposes the beautiful with the beastly. By means of color, texture, content, and compositional density, she examines the discord between these two extremes — as well as how if perfectly balanced, they make quite the harmonious pair. Park works with contrasts and unusual combinations, including in one work a dark dragon set against the translucent skin of a female beauty. According to Park, it is through drawing out their differences that we see single elements more clearly.

Meanwhile, the Scandinavia House is presenting the first major American exhibition of one of the most important Swedish artists: Carl Fredrik Hill (1849-1911). The exhibition focuses on the series of expressive drawings produced during the last 30 years of Hill’s life, a period in which he was deemed incurably insane. While dismissed by his contemporaries, Hill is these days considered a Nordic precursor of the Surrealist, Expressionist, and Pop Art movements. His works reveal a sensibility that while bordering on melancholic, is also life-affirming.

At the Rubin Museum of Art, the exhibition “Victorious Ones: Jain Images of Perfection” focuses on images of the founding figures of Jainism. Besides Buddhism and Hinduism, Jainism constitutes one of India’s three classical religions.  Like Buddhism, it aims to lead its followers away from the painful cycle of endless rebirths and toward the liberation from all suffering, preaching a doctrine of non-violence. In the exhibition, paintings and sculptures depict the so-called Jinas, who despite their having achieved liberation, are believed to be accessible to humans as objects of devotion. In addition, it presents the spaces that the Jinas sanctify, including painted maps of the Jain universe, depictions of famous pilgrimage sites, beautiful domestic shrines, and ritual diagrams.

One of the most awe-inspiring exhibitions in town is “Slash: Paper Under the Knife” at the Museum of Art and Design. It is the third exhibition within the museum’s Materials and Process series — which explores how contemporary artists employ paper as a major creative medium. It is a revelation. Featuring sculpture, wall installations, collage, silhouette and animation, the show proves the vastly expressive range this medium offers. Burning, tearing, cutting by laser and shredding are only a few of the innovative techniques employed by the artists here and they often make for surprising results. Besides art stars such as Olafur Eliasson and Kara Walker, the show is especially interesting for introducing lesser-known talents such as Fran Siegel, Beatrice Coron, Chris Gilmour and Ariana Boussard-Reifel. The museum moved to Columbus Circle in 2008 and the redesign of the original Edward Durell Stone building was a hot-button issue among preservationists. It is a must see. 

One of the city’s storied and exceptional Yuletide traditions can be found on Fifth Avenue, in The Metropolitan Museum. Each year, the Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque crèche (the brightly lit, twenty-foot blue spruce - with a collection of 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs among its boughs and groups of realistic crèche figures flanking the Nativity scene at its base ) are installed in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall. Set in front of the 18th-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid — with recorded Christmas music in the background — this display is one of the best guarantees for capturing the true spirit of the holidays.  

Asia Society, Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan; through January 3, 2010; at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street). Call 212-288-6400 or visit www.asiasociety.org.

Chelsea Art Museum, So-Bin Park: Toward the Creation of a New Female Myth; through January 2, 2010; at 556 West 22nd Street. Call 212-255-0719 or visit www.chelseaartmuseum.org.   

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche; through January 6, 2010; at 1000 Fifth Avenue. Call 212-535-7710 or visit www.metmuseum.org.  
The Museum of Arts and Design, Slash: Paper Under the Knife; through April 4, 2010; at 2 Columbus Circle. Call 212-299-7777 or visit www.madmuseum.org.  

National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center New York, Annie Pootoogook; through January 10, 2010;at 1 Bowling Green. Call 212-514-3700 or visit www.gosmithsonian.com.  

New Museum, Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty; through February 7, 2010; at 235 Bowery. Call 212-219-1222 or visit www.newmuseum.org.

Rubin Museum of Art, Victorious Ones: Jain Images of Perfection; through February 15, 2010; at 150 West 17th Street. Call 212-620-5000 or visit www.rmanyc.org.

Scandinavia House, Carl Fredrik Hill: Swedish Visionary and Modernist; Drawings from the Malmö Art Museum; through January 9, 2010; at 58 Park Avenue (at 38th Street). Call 212-847-9737 or visit www.scandinaviahouse.org.   



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